The Garden Diary 2004
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17 January - Today has been dry, if rather cloudy, and cold after a frost first thing this morning.
Over the last few days I have been doing other things and haven't spent too much time watching the garden. However, there are a few bird observations to note. There have been single visits by a Goldfinch and a Great Tit. A Sparrowhawk attacked this afternoon, sweeping through the Hawthorn and, as far as I could tell, left without anything. Unusually it did not try again, even though there were birds in the tree, including this female Blackbird (or is it a young male?), photographed earlier, feeding under the tree.
There are larger numbers of Starlings here at the moment, spending a lot of time at the peanut feeders. I've included this picture, taken yesterday, to record the appearance of their winter plumage at the moment.
It seems that visits to the birdbox entrance by a Blue Tit are becoming a daily event. This morning the face was clearly 'seen' by the camera as I switched on the video monitor in the house. This evening I spent time down at the box tidying up the wires and making adjustments to the B/W camera in order to improve the image ready to be able to (hopefully) capture the moment when a BT enters the box.
18 January - Just a short entry at the end of a sunny day - Hot water was needed again for the birdbath this morning, although the air temperature only just got down to 0C.
Last year they didn't start doing this until the last week of February.
Click on the images to see larger versions
21 January - Over the last few days the weather has been generally overcast and damp again with no over night frosts and daytime temperatures remaining mild. Interestingly, there is extensive discussion on a UK weather newsgroup concerning a change to very cold weather with a probability of snow in the next week.
I have done nothing in the garden and have taken no photographs since the last entry. The Sparrowhawk is visiting daily at the moment, although I have yet to see it catch anything. I'm still waiting to see the Woodpecker since putting up the new feeder. On the other hand, the Wren has become a frequent visitor, especially spending time down amongst the dead Iris leaves in the small pond.
As far as I can tell there have been no visits to the birdbox in the last three days despite the Blue Tits' constant presence in the garden. Neither have I seen them going to the box next-door. Today I received a second Topica CCTV camera ( courtesy of eBay) and I'm in the middle of planning a new Robin nestbox that will allow the use of it as a possible alternative to the Blue Tit webcam. When complete the box will be installed behind the trellis that is tucked under the Ivy tree.
While the Oxslips are flowering well, the Snowdrops have not yet opened - there are quite a few well formed flower buds so I would expect the first to open soon.
Over the last few weeks there has been the occasional face seen 'at the door' but this morning has brought the first encouraging progress.
The bold marking of the bib and eye stripe suggest to me that this could be a male.
It spent some time outside, pecking at the wood around the hole before entering for about half a minute. Since then (it is 10am as I write this) there has been a bird at the entrance numerous times and a couple of times I have heard it calling from there to its partner which perched in a bamboo plant no more than a metre or so away.
The weather forecasters got it right about this morning and I'm glad to see the grey skies gone. It should be starting to cool down now as we head towards next week's promised cold weather, although there seems that there is some uncertainty as to how much (if any) snow we will get. I know it always causes chaos here, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it does come!
Talking of snow, there are lots of Snowdrop flower buds in sight now and first thing this morning some were on the verge of opening. - By this afternoon there were numerous open, although many of the plants are still far from flowering. It was exactly a year to the day that the first Snowdrop opened last year.
The presence of just one flower on each stem and the green patches on the inner petals are indicators that these are native rather than a cultivated variety.
Another event noticed this afternoon is the opening of the first leaf buds on the Elder that is next to the Ivy tree. This is over two weeks earlier than last year.
I took advantage of today's sunshine to make a new Robin nestbox that will allow the use of one of my colour cctv cameras.
The nest section of the box has a base of about 4x4 inches and it will be separated from the camera compartment by a glass panel. The camera is mounted on a piece of timber which can be slid out through a door at the left hand end. Tomorrow I'll be installing a light source that will give soft, low level white light during the daytime.
When the box is in position the camera will be enclosed in polythene. I still need to work out the cabling needed to connect it to the house - I may resort to using a wireless link.
The Sparrowhawk continues to make its daily visits although I've not seen anything caught during this period of visits.
Finally, the clear skies meant that we had a good view of the conjunction of Venus and a crescent moon soon after sunset.
In this picture, as well as a dash of cloud, you can see the effect of Earth shine, showing up the complete sphere and giving a hint of the surface features.
I'd have liked to have taken a couple of shots before the sky became very dark but I was a few minutes too late.
25 January - A dry, if rather overcast day, which was a few degrees colder than before, and which started with a frost. I 'missed' the first half of the day as a result of being up during the night to follow the progress (on NASA TV) of the "Opportunity" landing on Mars - brilliant! It also meant my missing any morning visit to the BT box - there were none after noon.
Most of the rest of the day I was in a dream, but I did spend some time watching the birds in the garden in order to send in some data for the 'Big Garden Birdwatch' organised by the RSPB. They asked people in the UK to watch for 1 hour sometime during the weekend and record the species seen as well as the maximum number of each type seen during that time.
The Blackbirds continue to chase each other around. I am sure now that the one I pictured on the 17th is an immature male, and it looks as though, in the absence of an adult male, there are two youngsters (including this one, pausing for a moment during a chase) competing over territory.
In the meantime there is at least one immature female coming to feed. These(?) are extremely nervous and will fly off if they see any movement inside the window. This one was photographed from about 8ft away as she checked out the ground below the bird table. I was hidden behind the foam hide pictured at the beginning of the month.
I had set myself up to take photographs of the wren, which is a frequent visitor now. Unfortunately it made its last visit of the day just before I set myself up! I shall try again tomorrow.
26 January - A dull morning with the outside temperature just reaching 5C at noon.
First, a follow-up from yesterday with a close-up of one of the male Blackbirds. I think this is the one that is becoming the 'master' in this territory, spending a lot of time here, and not flying off when I went outside this morning.
The immature plumage is darker, and the yellow beak and ring around the eye are clearly seen.
Incidentally, earlier this morning the female chased off another female, so conflicts are far from settled as yet.
I wonder if this pair will get to nest in the Ivy this Spring.
The temperature was just on 0C first thing, and has stayed below 5C all day. This afternoon it turned increasingly cloudy.
At around 5.30pm the wind picked up rapidly and then at 5.40 it became very squally indeed and hail started falling, accompanied by thunder and lightning.
This picture shows some of the hail on our deck. Looking at the large image many of the lumps are quite angular in shape. I didn't stay outside for more than a few moments as the camera was getting wet.
After a few minutes the hail gave way to snow which came down heavily at first, but then died away gradually until it had stopped by 6.15pm with less than a centimetre on the ground - disappointing. The outside temperature is now 0.4C.
Just before the hail started I spotted another 'first flower' of the year as I parked my car.
A solitary White Dead-nettle has opened - last winter they were flowering right through the season.
The temperature was -1C at around 8.30am, but there had been no more snow since that Arctic front passed over us yesterday evening.
Paved areas, both here and at the front of the house are clear - they didn't cool down quickly enough yesterday for the snow to stick and by this morning they were almost completely dry, so no ice problems here.
Click on the images to see larger versions
The birds are certainly making the most of the morning sunshine. The Hawthorn is quite crowded as the sparrows find themselves sunny perches, and as I write this there are four Blackbirds in it as well - they seem to have called a truce for the moment.
Here, one of the males turns his back to the sun and spreads his wings as he sunbathes on a post.
There has been quite a bit of activity down the bottom of the garden as well. There have been six Chaffinches here (4f, 2m). As usual, only the females come to the bird table. The Blue Tits seemed to be doing a lot of displaying on branches of the Birch tree and, for a short time, seemed to be joined in this activity by a couple of Coal Tits.
As I watched their antics this Goldfinch appeared briefly, although too far away for a decent picture. I wonder if it the same one that I've seen twice before over the last month or so?
I should have mentioned yesterday that the audio and video cables are now in place for the Robin birdbox camera. I have to add a 12volt supply and a organise a few more things before the box is installed.
31 January - Well, all evidence of the snow had completely disappeared by the next day, and today it has been wet, windy and mild, with the outside temperature >10C at 6pm. Gales are promised with winds speeds up to 70mph.
Activity in the garden was at a premium today, with birds only appearing occasionally to feed.
One notable exception was this forlorn Wood Pigeon which remained perched on the bird table and then the fence for well over an hour in the wind and the rain. Its look just about sums up today - what a way to end the month!